I remember Mr. Locatelli’s shop in sepia, not in black and white like the TV boxes he repaired, or as the 60’s might suggest. We eased into color during my growing up, caught between monochrome and Kodachrome worlds. Memories of life’s ruddiness then are visibly tinged but not fully bloomed, not as bright as Dorothy stepping out of gray Kansas into Oz.
His repair shop was the size of a walk-in closet with a windowed front and a box fan humming static in the corner. It smelled of electric puff—the expired heat of blown fuses and plugged in-and-out electronics, and the grimed bits left in stove drip pans. Mr. Locatelli was sepia in a more literal sense, his large hands resting on top of the counter, shouldering his height, the red-brown of his skin darkened by the white of his rolled up shirt sleeves. He spoke broken English but better Italian, and his Italian words sounded like music to me. I remember him always laughing which seemed odd given that we were told to have pity for him—not because he was an immigrant, but because his wife died too young and left him with two small boys and one girl smaller still, to raise by himself in a country he barely knew, surrounded by people who welcomed him and kept their distance. Looking back, his laughing probably was for our benefit.
We’d met him four years before through the screen door of our porch, unknown and unexpected. What were we to make of this stranger who resembled neither us nor our language? He shifted foot to foot, grinning on the opposite side of the screen. His daughter Renee—mia figlia—needed watching after school. She was my age. Could my mother add one more to her eight? We gazed down at a dark-haired five-year-old girl who swayed side to side against her father’s trousers while his hands squeezed the band of his hat. I had no idea courage came in such colors. He paid us in fresh vegetables from his garden and once in TV tube repair which brought us to his shop this day.
My father talked ‘engineering’ to Mr. Locatelli while I waded thru the internal organs of dismembered RCA and Motorola boxes, scores of homeless tubes and wire, lots of wire—green, red, yellow—littering the floor. Never was I rooted in so much glass and fluorescence and the inklings of a shop that looked mid-way into its beginnings but was, in fact, long into business. The disorder amazed me. I touched the mother of all glass cylinders, a funneled picture tube like a huge megaphone that sat exposed, poking only its face from the console, and I thought about how its hollowed-out back could make a puppet theater until Mr. Locatelli asked me to be careful, but in a nice way, and my father said, “Don’t touch.”
On the way home in the car my father smiled and said Mr. Locatelli was a nice dago, which also sounded like music to me. But later that day when I said this to Renee, she became quiet and small in her uncertainty for a moment and said, “That’s not my dad’s name.” And then I, too, shaped by her silence, became quiet about what I said and what my father said, and fear crept in—the blurred edges of wondering if this was one of those things said inside the family but not said outside the family. Uncomfortable in the silence I suggested we feed Gus, Mr. Fagan’s horse that lived down the block and who we were convinced was lonely—being the only horse in town. Renee agreed and we ran from the house, the word dago dissolving between us, both of us relieved to let go of ambiguity.
Anne Muccino lives in Kansas City where she raised her two boys and completed her BA in English, Creative Writing. Her short stories, essays and poems have been published in the journals of Literary Laundry, Kansas City Voices, Number One Magazine, Work Stew, and others.